May 27, 2016 / 1:28 PM / a year ago

Fishing for crabs: Venice's culinary Moeche delicacy

A bas-relief of the Lion of St. Mark is seen over a door at the Venice lagoon, Italy, April 23, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - For a few days every spring and autumn, the lagoon of canal-laced Venice yields a very particular kind of catch and culinary treat.

“Moleche” -- or “moeche” as they called in the Venetian dialect -- are young crabs that have shed their baby shells and have yet to grow their adult ones. The renewal process takes only a few hours: a small window during which the Venice Lagoon anglers cast their nets.

The crabs’ soft exterior hardens quickly if the crabs aren’t fished right away. Those that are scooped up before their shedding are kept in deep vats of seawater until their transformation takes place.

Click reut.rs/1TGsNYU for a Reuters photo essay on the crabs.

Once at the fish market and on trattoria tables, the “moeche” do not come cheap. They sell on average for 50 euros - 80 euros  ($55-89) per kilogram. Venetian chefs prefer to serve the crabs fried in a flour batter and boiling oil.

A box with moeche crabs is seen at a fish market in Venice, Italy, April 23, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

“It has the typical sweetness of a crab, combined with a sapid, savory flavor due to the saltiness of the lagoon waters,” said Francesco Agopyan, owner of the Antiche Carampane.

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“It is a very popular dish, especially among Venetians but also by others. It’s a special dish.”

The moeche crabs are more than a deliciously moist culinary tradition of Italy’s lagoon city. Historians say they pervade Venice’s artistic tradition as well.

In paintings and sculptures, the Venetian lion, symbol of the city, is often portrayed front facing with its wings around its head.

The shape is reminiscent of a crab’s claws, and in Venice, the lion depicted in this way is often referred to as being in “moeca”.

Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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